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5 clever ways to create brand loyalists

5 clever ways to create brand loyalists Vince Errico
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I was recently on one of the first flights of the day out of LaGuardia for a business trip. It was one of those dreaded early morning excursions that feels like it's still the middle of the night when leaving home. To my surprise and delight, I was greeted by an upgrade upon arriving at the airport. I was instantly happy with my choice of airline; and while upgrades are not a particularly unique way to form brand loyalty, it worked. This experience left me in my upgraded seat pondering: How can we be clever and innovative in our pursuit to drive further brand loyalty?

Be clear about your brand values

Regardless of whether your brand is a high-end luxury good or an everyday necessity, your loyalists are looking for reasons to love, buy, talk about, and recommend your brand. While it may seem obvious (and not necessarily clever, but worth repeating), clearly-stated brand values reinforced with each communication are a major factor in your customers' decisions to make a purchase or complete an interaction.

Make sure your brand values are consistently and clearly communicated wherever your customer is encountering your brand -- across all platforms and environments. In today's parlance, this is sometimes referred to as brand storytelling.

If your customers are encountering your products in your own store or another company's physical store environment, evaluate that environment for brand fit. Adjust or adapt your product to the greatest extent possible to maintain clear brand messaging.

When it comes to digital, it's critical for you to know on which websites and platforms your customers are encountering your products. Consumers are increasingly finding your products, and ultimately interacting with your brands, on another company's site or platform (think Facebook, Google, etc.). You may not have placed yourself in that environment, but your customers have. Evaluating those environments for brand fit, and adjusting or adapting where possible, is key to maintaining strong brand messages and connections.

Oprah, for example, ensures her brand message of hope for a better tomorrow is clearly communicated in every medium, new product launch, and space where someone might find her products and brand. TOMS also embodies this and ensures consumers know its ultimate mission of donating shoes by labeling it inside its product. TOMS' consumers are encountering their ultimate messaging on all platforms, both digitally and physically.

Ultimately, marketers must be certain they are communicating brand values clearly at every consumer touchpoint. Are you?

Create experiences

Your brand loyalists may or may not tell you they want more ways to interact with you. They may not even be aware they want more ways to interact with you, or how those interactions might happen. Nonetheless, it is important to provide various ways for your loyalists to connect with your brand on their own terms.

Besides mass consumer experiences via websites, mobile apps, and branded digital platform pages, brand marketers need to create special experiences through events only their brand can provide. The key to creating a successful experience is to add value by bringing fans together and providing them opportunities to go deeper, allowing them to meet, socialize, and geek-out over a mutual passion and to share information. Remember, your loyalists are buying into the whole brand experience.

Many companies are recognizing the opportunity for consumer engagement and brand recognition through hosting experiential events. Taste of Home, for instance, is a food brand that showcases popular or new recipes at live, in-market cooking shows or other activations, driving home the message that it can, and will, answer consumer needs. These experiential events offer brand loyalists who are salivating at the thought of tasting food products or trying out a new recipe the opportunity to learn kitchen tips and tricks, too. By supplying consumers with meaningful interaction, brands can nurture a community of brand loyalists who share a passion.

Give them a reason to come back and surprise them

Loyalists love being in the know and growing their interactions with your brand (which they think of as "their" brand). Give them a reason to come back; ask for their opinions and give them a first look at how new ideas have been incorporated. You can even give them a sneak peek at something entirely new.

It's a fairly common practice in the B2B world to have user groups who are regularly asked for input and shown the results. Ask a select group of your own loyalists to try an improved version of an existing product. Then surprise the rest of your customers by providing them access to a new product or service. Do this on a regular basis and you'll not only give your customers reasons to come back, you'll also develop an excellent method of continuous product development and improvement.

Netflix is an interesting and clever case study in giving loyalists a reason to return. Very early on, Netflix provided streaming video at no additional cost to its subscribers. Initially, the company thought it would be a way to save on the costs of shipping and inventory maintenance, as well as provide enhanced service to subscribers with an ever-increasing appetite for instant gratification. Netflix lost a few subscribers when it started charging separately for streaming, but not enough to harm brand loyalty of their loyalists.

What the company probably didn't realize at the time is by providing streaming service years in advance of anyone else (and in advance of the technology and bandwidth that could seamlessly support it), it hastened the demise of its main competitor, Blockbuster (remember them?), while solidifying its position as a market leader in SVOD.

Just as Netflix has done, discern the main reason your loyalists are coming back and how you can provide them more of what they crave. Can you adapt it to roll out to a larger group of customers?

Get them engaged, feature them in content

Besides loving to provide feedback, loyalists love telling you stories about your product or service and how they interact with you. Ask them for input and then feature them in content, or just provide them ways to submit user-generated content.

Empower your most active, true loyalists and contributors by rewarding their actions and making them a part of your operation. Giving the most active contributors a "title" will codify what they were already doing as "duties" and celebrate their importance to you. Lady Gaga, for example, calls her most engaged fans "little monsters."

Recognize your loyalists and present them to the public, whether it's by reposting their digital content or even sharing their names on physical products. Taco Bell has honed in on this. For Cinco de Mayo, it provided fans and non-fans alike a way to be featured in Snapchat content using a taco face filter. In just one day, it was viewed 224 million times, a telling figure for generating brand loyalty. Stu Leonard's has posted thousands (maybe even millions) of photos of its loyal customers holding a branded shopping bag in every conceivable far-flung corner of the world.

Adding customer quotes (like reviews) to your site or your page on a social media platform is another way to feature your customers in your content. Ultimately, you must strategize when it is appropriate to feature your loyalists in your own content or on other platforms.

Be responsive

In today's social media era, responding to customer queries through helpful interactions, wherever they are, is mandatory for all brands. Consumers expect it. Whether it's a simple "like" on a nice mention of (or a selfie with) your product or a customer service question, it will surprise and delight your customers to interact with you this way.

With the rise of social media platforms and instant, always-on communication came the very real risk a brand's reputation could almost instantly be tarnished through negative commentary or reviews. It's no longer an option to remain mute on social platforms, unless you're willing to abdicate control of your brand messaging and image.

Recently I was pleasantly surprised twice by two different companies whose products I use. I complimented The Economist on Twitter, not expecting much back from a major media brand. To my surprise, the publication quickly liked my post and even retweeted it. A simple gesture like this shows consumers that brands appreciate feedback and are listening to their wants and needs.

I also recently used a ride sharing service and was overcharged. When I didn't get a satisfactory resolution from what appeared to be an email answer bot, I posted my complaint on Facebook and hashtagged them. Within the hour, the problem was cleverly resolved by a real person private messaging me. The result -- I went on to rave about them in a subsequent post.

Brands should field customer service questions as they arise through Facebook, Twitter, or other channels. Obviously, it serves the customer well. In addition, it's an opportunity for the company to shine and show other customers and potential customers you're responsive to their needs.

This kind of responsiveness goes beyond the more traditional means of customer interactions through phone, email, and even physical mail and should not be ignored. Getting back to customers in a timely manner on any platform used to communicate with you is increasingly essential precisely because of the seamlessness with which your customers use multiple platforms.

Like many technologies today, building brand loyalists is an "always on" proposition. Look at all customer touchpoints regularly and honestly evaluate how your brand stacks up or needs to change to evolve to the next level of success. Study others who are skillfully engaging audiences (particularly in other fields) and think about what your version of another's clever concept could be to drive your own customers to love, buy, talk about, and pledge undying loyalty to your brand.

Vince Errico is a global executive with more than three decades of digital strategy and management experience. Previously, Vince served as SVP and General Manager of Lifestyle properties at Everyday Health Inc., a leading publisher of digital health...

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